Friday, June 3, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: Starting with a Bang

This week's Wendig Challenge is deceptively simple: start with a bang. Interpret liberally, but the story must start in the middle of the action. Sounds to me like Xavier Xanthum is on the loose again (go here to find previous stories about the intrepid space explorer). Because if there is one character I've invented who is apt to be in the middle of a big bang, it's Xavier Xanthum.

In just over 1000 words, I present...

To Be, or Not to Be

“Emergency posts. Assume emergency posts at once.” The computerized voice, flat and unemotional, was the strongest warning the starship Wanderlust could produce. When there was time, Larry liked to put emotion into the voice.

Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, grabbed one of the straps along the wall and hung on, wasting no time or energy asking Larry what was wrong. He was still trying to fasten the buckles when a light flared through the ship, and a shock wave tossed the vessel around.

“Larry! Report!” Xavier had to wait for his eyes to recover from the flare, but he could feel that the ship was hurt. 

Larry didn’t respond.

Swearing fiercely, his abused eyes streaming tears, Xavier fumbled with the straps, released himself, and pushed off the wall, aiming for the pilot chamber by feel and habit as much as sight. He pulled himself into the navigation chair and strapped in, blinking rapidly and squinting to focus on the readouts in front of him.

No breech of the hull. That was the main thing. But no sign of Larry, either. “Larry? Report?” Xavier tried again. Still no voice, no glowing eyeballs. A line of plain type appeared on the screen.

“Solar flare. Extensive damage to computer core. Shutting down all but essential systems.” The line of type faded, and Xavier slumped. Larry was gone. All he had was life support and basic propulsion. He was on his own. A small noise at his feet drew his attention, and he looked down.

Not quite alone. Somehow Comet Kitty had survived the blast. Now there were two lives to save.

He could mourn Larry later. And maybe the AI would be back after repairs. It didn’t matter right now. Xavier needed to focus on getting out alive.

He’d passed all his astrogation classes back at the academy, but not by much, and that was a long time ago. Xavier had been in space for longer than he cared to remember, and now, staring at the instruments, he knew he’d gotten lazy, leaning on the much more efficient computer.

“Well, Comet, it’s time for a refresher course!” He glanced at the cat, which jumped onto his lap, curled up, and began to purr. She had confidence in him. Xavier wished he shared it, as he began the tedious process of manually determining position and locating the nearest planet with spacer facilities.
Three days later, the planet they approached sent a terse command. “Spaceport Bartleby calling unknown vessel. Please identify.”

So the automatic beacon had been knocked out, too. Or shut down. Larry might not have considered that essential, and Xavier started to sweat again. He’d relaxed as the trip went smoothly and his astrogational skills returned. That Larry had shut down the beacon scared him, because it was the last “optional” function before life support and directional control. It had been close.

What if they had to completely replace the computer system? Xavier had consoled himself for the loss of his friend by believing that, once the computer was repaired, Larry would be able to come back from wherever he had hidden himself in the depths of the computer. But if the whole thing was burned out, Larry was gone. A new computer wouldn’t have the sense of humor to manifest itself as a pair of glowing eyeballs. Or to play jokes on him, or recreate a Christmas morning, complete with a kitten in his stocking.

Would he want to go back to voyaging alone?

Xavier negotiated a docking contract with a maintenance station, and maneuvered into position, feeling lower and lower. And how could he explain why he preferred to repair the current computer at all costs, rather than upgrade to a brand new and no doubt more powerful machine? If he started talking about Larry, they’d lock him up as another spacer gone space-crazy.

Maybe he had.

He’d still rather have Larry.


“I’m not made of money. Repair, don’t replace, unless there’s no hope.” He’d found the one reasonable explanation for his desire to retain the original computer, and backed it up with the second most compelling argument. “I don’t believe in waste. I always repair things.”

The technicians eyed the well-worn shell of the Wanderlust, nodding, and Xavier blushed in spite of himself. He knew what they were thinking, and they were too right. He made enough from his explorations to pay for the next trip, as a general rule. Nothing left for fancy upgrades. This repair was going to put him in a hole, too. He’d better hope to find a planet worth discovering, and soon. Though he’d write up the experience of the flare and his trip to Bartleby for Explorer’s Magazine, and rate the repair dock, too. That would bring in a little cash.

“We’ll do what we can for your computer, but it’ll take a few days. Might as well head dirtside and enjoy yourself,” the head tech said. He eyed Comet, who sat like a queen in Xavier’s go-bag. “How long since the cat was dirtside?”

“It’s been three months for me, six for her. Our last port didn’t like cats.”

“Reckon she’ll pass,” the man said with a shrug, and Xavier entered the elevator.

“Keep me posted about the repairs.”


Xavier held the wake two days out from port. The auto-pilot was working perfectly. Everything was working perfectly.

There was no sign of Larry. It was time to accept that the flare had burned him out of existence.

Xavier poured himself another drink.

“I’m gonna miss Larry,” he told the cat, and started to cry.

“Don’t get maudlin. You’re drunk.”

Xavier sat very still. The voice had come from all around him. It didn’t sound like Larry, not exactly, but…he looked at the cat. Comet had gone to sleep. If she wasn’t talking to him, that left only one possibility. He turned around slowly, and stared.

A pair of eyeballs glowed back at him. Xavier would have sworn they were grinning.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


  1. Ah, Larry <3 Good thing I've already written VS book 2. Something uncannily similar occurs.... you might have thought it was plagiarism.

    1. Just us, thinking alike again! Good think I haven't yet read VS2 or you might think I was stealing ideas!


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